City Dedication to Brian Stebbins
In March of 1996, Cooper & Stebbins land developer Brian Stebbins called for Southlake residents to congregate at the community center at Bicentennial Park. Both the concerned
Not too surprising, attendees expressed interest in good restaurants, parks and sidewalks – places they could meet friends and bump into neighbors. They also wanted their own hotel for school proms and community gatherings as, until then, most events had to be done out of the city. All told, it was apparent the residents wanted a place to call their own. and the curious turned out to hear the plans from the visionary who wanted to build a downtown district in their own backyard. But the crowd did not get a presentation; instead they were invited into a dialogue about the city’s future. Armed with just a pad and pen Stebbins asked, “What do you want in your city’s downtown?” The 150 residents in attendance were in disbelief, “Who was this guy, and is this for real?” they asked. After gaining the trust of the group, he again asked the question and started to jot down items the community wanted to have.
On March 20, 1999 the official grand opening ceremony of the downtown Stebbins envisioned was held. Hundreds of people turned out to the community-wide event reminiscent of the days of yesteryear. From the Carroll Marching Band to city council members, police and fire personnel, many participated in what was most likely the city’s largest parade even to this day. Following the parade, a ceremonial ribbon cutting set off the shopping for all of the original tenants from Ann Taylor to Williams-Sonoma, many of which continue to call Southlake Town Square home today.
Fifteen years from the very first meeting, the vision and determination of Stebbins and the teamwork forged with four successive city administrations – the former farmland in the center of Southlake now has exactly what the residents were looking for; fine restaurants like Mi Cocina, Truluck’s, and Brio Tuscan Grill, meeting spaces like Frank Cornish Park and Rustin Pavilion, and a highly successful Hilton hotel that community members appreciate as the home to so many great community events.
On December residents, family, friends, and members of the City of Southlake gathered once again, however, this time around the presentation was not from Brian Stebbins, it was for him. The gathering held by the city and led by Mayor John Terrell was called to honor the vision and impact that Brian Stebbins brought to the city.
In addition to Mayor John Terrell, each of the three former Mayors of Southlake starting from the beginning of the Southlake Town Square’s development from 1996 were duly represented at the podium starting with now Tarrant County Commission Gary Fickes, Rick Stacy, and Andy Wambsganss.
Fickes fondly remembered Stebbins entrance onto the city landscape in 1995, the overly simplistic notion of creating a downtown area that families could enjoy and the development of sophisticated and effective “corridor overlays” that helped brace the city for several decades of quality development.
Stacy recalled “uncertain times” when city ordinances for development along the scale Stebbins introduced were yet to be put in place. Furthermore, city officials and residents wondered alike how such a lofty project could be funded. Stacy even joked, “I couldn’t spell TIF until I met Brian Stebbins,” alluding to the Tax Increment Financing Zone where a portion of sales tax in the area would be utilized for the development of the public infrastructure. In this case, 100 percent of the cost for Southlake’s Town Hall in addition to a portion of Town Square’s public street construction, public infrastructure and public parks came from the TIF coffers.
Before passing the microphone to business partner, friend and President of Cooper and Stebbins, Frank Bliss, Mayor John Terrell reminisced on the accolades bestowed upon the city and its remarkable growth into an attractive area for both commerce and community. Wondering what could happen to an already successful development Terrell noted that the opening of the city’s Department of Public Safety in early 2010 was the latest in a long list of Southlake’s crowning achievements.
Bliss took the assembled crowd back to the very beginning when he first heard Stebbins talk of a piece of property just off the highway near DFW International Airport. Even from the earliest cocktail napkin sketches it was clear to Brian that this was to be a downtown area. Brian’s enthusiasm could make the most rudimentary sketch come to life for anyone who was willing to listen. Perhaps the most influential conversation may have been when Brian explained his vision to architect David Schwartz, the man behind the Ballpark in Arlington, the American Airlines Center and Bass Performance Hall in downtown Fort Worth. Before long Schwartz agreed to lead the creative concepts, while Stebbins would oversee the practical elements of the entire project.
Schwarz would later say, “Brian has remained true to his vision to make Southlake an outstanding contribution to North Texas, as well as a wonderful learning opportunity for the country at large.
With the culmination of a brief history of the development, a sculpture entitled “The Ties that Bind” was dedicated to Stebbins, wife Pattie, son Carter, and daughter Jenna. The sculpture crafted by artist Jane DeDecker depicts a simple moment of dignity, a man helping a little boy tie his shoe, a universal and timeless scene befitting the architecture of Southlake Town Square, aptly placed at the corner of Main and State Street, it is perfectly visible from the Southlake Town Square offices of the development firm bearing Stebbins’ name. The plaque adorning the flagstone base reads:
“What was once farmland, developer Brian Stebbins and the City of Southlake envisioned as: a center of activities and downtown for the City; a community-gathering place for events and entertainment; a place to conduct commerce; and the heart of our City’s government.
Their passion, determination and attention to detail brought Southlake Town Square to life.
Southlake Town Square is recognized nationally and internationally as an authentic hometown community; the standard for downtown developments.”
Longtime friend and colleague Judge Brad Bradley said, “Since the mid-90s the unique talents of Brian Stebbins have only become more apparent. He has successfully combined his true vision and dogged determination with a compulsive striving for perfection. Southlake would be a very different place without him. He created the downtown we would never have had.”
At a cost exceeding $200 million thus far, the vision is only half way to completion. Even as the project gets close to almost two decades in existence, the final price tag is still far from set in stone. Future developments include additional lifestyle housing, a potential corporate headquarters and ever more community green space.
Completed or not, the city’s residents and the hundreds of thousands who visit regularly to shop, attend Art in the Square, Stars & Stripes, or the Home for the Holidays celebration, Stebbins vision to build so much more than an outdoor mall has already come to fruition.
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